And now, just as the Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert regime hits its stride going into their third season, Randy Lerner has pulled the rug out from under his front office yet again, announcing the day before training camp that he is in talks with Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam III to sell a controlling stake in the team.
People such as NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal are already predicting that with the sale yet another rebuilding effort is destined for the trash heap. With former Eagles president Joe Banner playing a role in Haslam's buyers group, it's in vogue to predict Holmgren's days in Cleveland are numbered.
Some Browns fans on comment boards have expressed hopes that the new ownership would at least retain GM Tom Heckert, pointing to Heckert's having served under Banner in Philadelphia. Other Browns personnel such as HC Pat Shurmur and OC Brad Childress have also worked with Banner.
But those closer to the Philly scene are cautioning not to count on this to make for a smooth transition.
"Banner was as responsible as anyone for Heckert leaving the Eagles," writes Mark Eckel of The Times of Trenton. "So a new general manager would be high on the to-do list."
There is a large contingent of Browns fans—including yours truly—who would be über disappointed to see Heckert lost in this transition.
Should the new ownership try to retain Tom Heckert as GM?
Pat Shurmur? He's facing a rough go of it any way you slice it. The team went 4-12 in Shurmur's rookie HC campaign. Even if Lerner didn't set off these fireworks, Shurmur was under heavy pressure. That pressure just got turned up to 11.
Going through a labor dispute that eliminated his first offseason as head coach, and then an ownership change his second year, Pat Shurmur is facing some heavy adversity in his short tenure.
If the new ownership gets rid of Shurmur after this season, three out of the last five Browns coaches will have been fired after only two seasons on the job.
Holmgren himself has said it best (via ClevelandBrowns.com): "You don't get to where you want to be by blowing this up every two or three years."
Maybe Randy Lerner needed that line posted in big block lettering just outside his office door, because the man seems incapable of controlling his compulsion to do exactly that.
And that is why Randy Lerner will not be missed. Lerner can't keep his nervous fingers from striking the detonation match. And every time he does, the fans have to suffer literally for years as a new regime comes in and tries to put the pieces back together.
Holmgren said Saturday (via ClevelandBrowns.com) that Lerner's primary concern is that this news not impact the efforts of the team.
That line from Lerner might not reek of sulphuric mendacity had this deal been timed even an iota less poorly. The fact is, Randy, this is the type of thing you do in February if you don't want the boat rocked—not late July.
If there is a silver lining to find, perhaps it's that Haslam will know better. Perhaps Haslam will have the fortitude to see a rebuilding effort through. Perhaps Haslam and Banner will even take a wait-and-see approach to the current rebuilding effort before shaking the Etch-a-Sketch and starting over.
But perhaps that's just wishful thinking. And at this point it's all pure speculation. Because once again Browns fans find themselves pushed by Randy Lerner into the dark waters of the unknown—the uncomfortable but eerily familiar tides of the wait-and-see.
Here's to hoping Haslam has the sense to end that asinine pattern for good.